Students in Richmond County Public Schools won’t have to worry about missing out on school meals during the mandatory closure. On Wednesday, RCPS will begin distributing food throughout the community.

Last year, RCPS began offering free meals to all students, and the school system is aware that some families rely on that food. To continue fulfilling the need, the school system will use its bus routes to establish drop-off and pickup points where families can collect bundles that include breakfast and lunch for multiple days. 

RCPS will conduct a phone survey to gauge the demand, and make meal deliveries three times a week. After the first few weeks, RCPS will likely conduct another survey to ensure that students’ needs are being met.

“We’re going to do everything possible to get as much food out as we can,” said RCPS Superintendent Dr. James Smith.

RCPS’ home-based learning plan

Students may have a week off, but they can also expect to see a return to school work coming their way. On Monday March 23, RCPS plans to restart the learning.

Classes for grades eight through 12 will be conducted via virtual lessons and use virtual content to facilitate a continuous thread of learning, said Smith. 

Students have school-issued laptops they can use to get their work done, and the high school currently has about 100 mobile hotspots that students can check out if they don’t have internet service at home. RCPS will also use a phone survey to gauge the need for those devices.

For now, grades K-7 will have learning packets. But over the next two weeks, RCPS will explore the path to ramp up a virtual learning program for fourth through seventh graders.

Students’ learning packets will be distributed on the bus routes for those children that ride buses. Parents who normally drop off and pick up their children, will have to go to the school, and there will be a station where they can pick up the material. 

RCPS will offer additional online resources for students across the various grade levels to help fortify their learning experience. The RCPS campus has wireless capability that extends to the parking lot. Parents and students commonly sit in their cars and use the Wi-Fi when schools are closed, and that remains an option for families that need internet access.

Challenges to overcome

RCPS began developing a plan to handle a possible school shutdown before Governor Ralph Northam decided to do so. But the “poor timing” of the governor’s decision has created a problem that’s still being addressed.

With the closure announcement coming at about 2:30 on Friday and buses leaving the schools at 3:15, there was no time to tell students to carry their books, laptops and other learning resources home. Some students even left their coats and a wide range of other personal belongings at school.

At this point, it’s unclear how students will be able to retrieve those items. Smith said he is not sure about the protocol for allowing students to access the buildings even for a short time, and he’ll have to seek clarification on that.

That situation is making it more difficult to implement the plans, said Smith. 

Furthermore, the fast-moving developments associated with the coronavirus and the uncertainty make it difficult to plan for the long-term. But Smith said RCPS has talented staff and he’s confident they will serve Richmond County students well.

“This is completely new. We’re trying to think through all the possible iterations of it. And make the best process we can. We understand we will have to adjust it as we go through this process and respond to whatever problems we come across. But we’re going to do the very best we can,” said Smith.

He added that every family on the schools’ phone tree will receive a call regarding their needs for food and to survey broadband availability and internet needs. It will be a major help for the school system if families make it priority to respond and participate. And, if parents have questions or concerns, they can still contact school staff or call the school board. 

 School cleaning: a “continual” process

ServiceMaster began sanitizing RCPS facilities Monday morning. But “the cleansing of a building is only good until it’s next usage, so it’s a continual process,” said Smith. For now, staff are slated to come in twice a week, and after each use of a building, it’ll be sanitized again.

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